Districts are turning to K–12 marketing and community engagement to reduce student attrition. Use these tips to maximize K–12 enrollment in 2024.
In 2024, educators across the U.S. continue to display adaptability and resilience, but amid other rising trends, K–12 enrollment remains a prime concern. We know that public school enrollment is on the decline but where are the students going? A recent Stanford University report found that nearly 15% of disenrolled public school students transferred to private schools, while over 25% switched to homeschooling. Unfortunately, there isn’t one single solution to address this decline, as many factors play a role in student attrition. However, recruitment marketing and community advocacy may provide a boost to enrollment concerns. Here are three ways to think about how to apply these emerging trends in your school district.
Implementing K–12 Marketing Strategies to Differentiate Your District
While some causes of shifting enrollment patterns are out our control, such as population decline, this issue may also indicate a weakening connection between public schools and their communities. To mitigate the impact of the impending enrollment cliff and mitigate the financial pressures it brings, many districts are using K–12 marketing strategies, and other forms of advocacy, to build stronger connections to their district to promote retention, well-being, and eventually enrollment.
Consider the following ways to reach more potential students and increase the public’s understanding of your district’s benefits:
- Gather information to create a strong district value proposition. Use surveys and focus groups to gather community feedback about perceptions of the district, what sets it apart, and what programs or services people want. When possible, include prospective, current, and former families in your research for a more holistic assessment.
- Ensure your website and communications are inviting, understandable, and accessible. Be sure to highlight student success stories and wraparound support services in district communications.
- Never underestimate word-of-mouth promotion. Strengthen your school’s reputation by building authentic relationships with local community groups, nonprofits, businesses, and elected representatives.
Learn more about effective ways to draw in more families and communities with our infographic, Engaging Families and Communities in K-12 Education.
K–12 Community Partnerships Help Drive Sustainable Improvement
Many districts are coming to understand that strengthening community engagement, in addition to K–12 marketing strategies, not only improves their understanding of the communities they serve, but also positively impacts school climates by fostering decisions that meet the needs of more students, staff, and families. An unhealthy school climate can result in more than just a few bad days for students. Indicators of negative school climates such as bullying or absenteeism ultimately impact enrollment. In fact, school climate issues remain a major reason for drop-out among vulnerable student populations. Even when students do not drop out, bullying can be a deciding factor for parents to remove their students from the public system.
To create more welcoming, supportive, and connected schools for all community members, school and district leaders must first understand how to leverage data, best practices, and shared values. Systemic plans based on survey data and feedback will help leadership navigate the complicated political landscape of some localities. Take the following measures to help your district strengthen K–12 community partnerships while promoting healthy school climates:
- Expand avenues for two-way communication with all district community members and regularly seek their feedback on district needs and satisfaction levels, through accessible and culturally appropriate surveys and focus groups.
- Form a community engagement team to set annual engagement and outreach goals to ensure sustainable and effective family and community engagement initiatives.
- Host events that emphasis learning and shared values to build relationships and fill outreach gaps, including activities focused on cultural sharing, safety, mental health, sports, movies, books or other artforms, or community forums.
Maintaining a healthy school climate is a complex issue but with the right insight and collaboration, you can help promote equitable outcomes for all. Learn more with our infographic, The Why and How of a Positive School Climate.
Using Data to Get Ahead of the K–12 Enrollment Cliff
Investigating district data is key to uncovering new insights that will alleviate K–12 enrollment and engagement concerns. However, with fewer than 60% of teachers agreeing that their superintendents modeled data usage in 2023, it’s clear that many districts find it challenging to dive deeply into data analysis and market research. This disconnect may stem from not having the right tools to collect data or running low on resources to analyze data. For those districts, collaborating with an experienced third-party researcher may be a more efficient way to leverage new data-driven insights.
When districts investigate patterns in their data and solicit feedback from their community members, they are more prepared to develop long-term K–12 marketing, advocacy, and community based solutions that will attract more families and serve the interests and needs of the local communities in which they’re located. Follow these tips to help your schools gather valuable data to inform future enrollment goals and strategies:
- Interview recently disenrolled families to better understand their needs and reasons for leaving.
- Conduct an annual districtwide climate survey to assess current community perceptions and needs.
- Analyze enrollment data and use forecasting methods to make prudent budget planning decisions now and mitigate any future revenue losses.
Data can tell a vital story about K–12 challenges and how to solve them. Help your district staff make data utilization an integral part of 2024 with our K-12 Data Literacy Checklist.
Enrollment concerns continue to persist across the nation in 2024. However, with careful consideration, planning, and access to the right data, district leaders can forecast enrollment shifts and build a plan to mitigate them. Adopting a deeper understanding of student, family, and educator perspectives is vital to limiting major causes of attrition. Furthermore, trends such as building engagement through marketing initiatives and promoting community inclusivity, offer particularly promising opportunities for sustainable improvement in 2024–25.
Read about the top six trends that are on district leaders’ minds this year. Download our 2024 Trends in K–12 Education report.